Who doesn’t love a smashing new year’s party? What if I told you this party lasts a few days, takes place in the sunny outdoors and involves insane amounts of water… That’s Thingyan, the water festival leading to the Burmese New Year. The festival takes place throughout Myanmar around mid april, during the country’s hottest period. Similar waterfestivals are celebrated in the neighbouring buddhist countries Thailand, Laos (Songkran) and Cambodia (Chaul Chnam Thmey).
We were lucky enough to be in Myanmar for Thingyan. It’s the most important public holiday in the country and we were told that the best place to celebrate, is in the capital. So we set off to Yangon a couple of days before the festival as there is very limited transportation during the festival.
I hadn’t expected the water festival to be a big deal. Boy, was I wrong! It started in the taxi on the way to the centre. The driver had covered the seats and dashboard with plastic.
I asked him: “why is you car completely covered in pla…”
An excited young man standing by the side of the road had just emptied a full bucket of ice water over my head. The taxi driver roared with laughter. “Happy happy?” he asked.
“Yes, happy…” I replied startled.
And so the tone was set…
Although there is water thrown around absolutely everywhere, all the time -walking down the street in dry clothes is impossible- there are several areas where entertainment is provided. Most tourists found their way to the main square where a stage was set up featuring traditional dancers and water hoses. The dancing was beautiful but compared to what was going on in other parts of town this was quite boring.
THE place to be for Thingyan in Yangon is at the Kandawgyi Lake. That’s where all the cool kids go. It’s fun, loud, and utter madness. Dozens of temporary water spraying stations are set up and double as dance stages. Pop and electro music blares from the speakers as the people dance, play and sing under what can only be described as the world’s largest shower. Every two steps a cheerful Burmese shakes your hand and asks “happy happy?”. You reply “happy happy!”.
Every single person is soaking wet and carries some kind of container filled with water. When you’re not standing under the “mega shower” someone empties their container over you and simultaneously wishes you a ‘Happy New Year’.
The water is pumped out of the lake and is flowing morning to sunset, non-stop. Hoses used to soak festivalgoers vary from regular garden hoses to fire hoses! At some point I was even sprayed down with a high-pressure washer which was quiet painful. But it’s for a good cause: the festival is held to wash away evil deeds, bad luck and sins from the past year before entering the new. Many of the adolescents take advantage of the more or less ‘free pass’ to commit some last minute “sins”. Drinking in public, walking hand in hand with their crushes, dressing and dancing provocatively…
Black Culture, organiser of one of the spraying stations, invited us to party on their dance floor. The DJ played some good beats and we mingled with the teenagers, hosing down passers-by. It reminded me of the City Parade, plus shower.
The enthusiasm, excitement and happiness of the people were mind blowing. But then again, not really… This is the only time a year where the Burmese government permits crowds to gather in public areas. It’s the only time where colour, rank and status have little or no significance. Everyone is included; kids, grand-parents, business men in suits, tourists, bus drivers…
The Burmese usually come across as soft-spoken, shy people, however, during Thingyan, they change into a fun-loving, outgoing crowd. Seeing this metamorphosis -maybe partly due to their alcohol consumption- is one of the things I enjoyed most about the water festival.
The festival lasts 3 to 5 days and the parties are mainly during day light. After sunset the participants return home and get a good night’s rest to resume the festivities the following day.
It’s important to really participate. Let go of your inhibitions and dance, jump, party… Get in there, allow people to talk to you. Go just as nuts as they do!
Those wanting to take a break from the madness or wish to take it easy, there are funfairs and (wet) food stands around the premises.
Don’t forget to protect your camera and other tech stuff from the water!
If you do manage to take a train or bus during Thingyan, don’t think your safe. You will get hosed down in there too!
Celebrate Thingyan in 2014 from Sunday April 13th to Wednesday April 16th.
Have you heard of Thingyan? Would you enjoy such a festival?